Germany’s New Role

BERLIN/BEIJING (Own report) – In the prelude to this weekend’s new Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s visit to Germany, a prominent German think tank is pleading for closer German-Chinese cooperation. If Germany seeks to continue to have influence in Beijing, it must “put more weight in the balance than it has in the past,” warns a recent statement by the Bertelsmann Foundation. Otherwise Berlin risks suffering the same fate as the EU, which China is marginalizing to a growing degree – not least of all, because of the persisting crisis. The EU’s institutions have – “as has often been the case in foreign policy – also overestimated their roles with China.” The German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) sees the development of European-Chinese relations similarly. According to SWP, Germany has become the focus of China’s attention on Europe, while the EU “has been demoted to a ‘political dwarf’ in the course of the crisis.” Foreign policy specialists outside Germany had critically noted last year that there is a disparity between Germany’s China policy and that of other EU countries – wherein Berlin has been having growing success in Beijing. “Europe,” in comparison, is being marginalized.

Initial Shifts in Power

The Euro Crisis has provoked new changes. China, as SWP notes in a recent study, has contributed not only US $43 billion via the IMF, to cushion the crisis, and provided additional credits to individual indebted countries. It has also increased its investments in EU countries in 2010/2011 from US $3 billion to $10 billion and is seeking to increase them further. “Due to the crisis, the People’s Republic of China’s relations to the EU (…) have been intensified and become more profound, but particularly focused on the economic essential aspects,” according to the SWP.[1] In the process, the initial “shifts in power in favor of the People’s Republic of China have become apparent.” However, with its “more robust approach toward China” the EU has been able to achieve a counterbalance.

Global Loss of Prestige

According to various specialists, the EU has suffered a tangible loss of its political influence in the process. For one thing, Beijing has realized “that the EU was neither willing nor able” to become a “strategic partner in the formation of a ‘multipolar world,’ challenging the USA’s leadership role,” writes the SWP. In the meantime, the economic crisis has caused a worldwide loss of “western prestige, in general, and thereby, also of Europe’s.”[2] As evidence, SWP provides a quote from former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who observed that the crisis is the result of the “irrational conduct of blue-eyed whites, who, before the crisis, seemed to know everything, but have now been shown to know nothing at all.” This refers not only to the USA but also to the EU, which, in the eyes of many countries around the world, “had helped promote the neoliberal ‘Washington Consensus’ project.” In a brief statement on the change of government in Beijing, the Bertelsmann Foundation drew a similar conclusion. The foundation recorded that the new President Xi Jinping had made his first official foreign visits to Russia and the BRICS Summit meeting [3] in South Africa. Prime Minister Li Keqiang has expressed “China’s strong interest in upgrading economic relations with the USA and Russia.” “Neither the EU nor even Germany were mentioned in the new Chinese leadership’s speeches. This should give Europe’s governments something to think about.”[4]

More Weight in the Balance

To prevent losing its influence with Beijing, the Bertelsmann Foundation’s paper now calls on Germany to “put more weight in the balance than it has done in the past.” One starting point could be “solutions to social and ecological problems” which will be decisive “for China’s future.” In these fields, “Germany has more to offer, in the long run, than the USA or Russia.”[7] Important decisions could be reached over the next few days. “The Chinese side has announced,” writes the foundation, that “it intends to use Li Keqiang’s visit to explore new areas of cooperation and investigate new cooperation mechanisms.”[8] These are opportunities Berlin must take.

Test Case

The European Council on Foreign Relations, on the other hand, considers that the relations to China will, to a large extent, define “Germany’s new role in Europe.” This will become a “test case” for “whether the interests of a stronger Germany, are still aligned with broader European interests.”[9] This clearly shows the drifting apart of foreign policy objectives under crisis pressures within the EU, pointing to future tensions and possibly fault lines for Europe.

Full article: Germany’s New Role (German Foreign Policy)

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